Although a number of excellent cheeses are made in America (think Humboldt Fog or Point Reyes Blue), the words “American Cheese” have become synonymous with the single-wrapped squares famous for their gooey, sticky melt. Before you turn up your nose at American slices, know that some of the world’s most famous chefs wouldn’t dream of
Hey I'm Caitlin Clark...
and I'm a food scientist and PhD candidate at Colorado State University, where I research chocolate.
When people find out I am a chocolate scientist, they act surprised that such a job exists. I’m surprised myself; my journey to where I am today was indirect, to say the least!
How I Got Here
I graduated with a B.A. from University of Colorado at Boulder in Linguistics and Classical Languages (Latin and Greek), against the advice of my parents, who wanted me to develop useful skills. Mostly to prove my parents wrong, I parlayed my linguistics degree into a job with the Spanish Defense Department in Madrid, Spain, where I lived for just over six years.
During my time in Madrid, I discovered my passion for fermented food and drink. Traveling around Spain, France, and Portugal as a resident and speaker of the local languages, I was exposed to a level of food culture that a tourist could never access. People brought me into their homes and offered me cheeses or spirits they had made themselves. I shared experiences of wine-making and sausage-making with farmers and participated in food preparation for rural festivals.
Eventually, I came to understand that food was my real passion, and I returned to my native Colorado to study food science.
At first, I thought I wanted to study cheese and other dairy ferments. I went to work on a goat farm and learned cheesemaking skills.
After a couple of years, I realized that I was more interested in fermented foods that are less well-studied. I became absorbed in studying chocolate. That’s right; chocolate is a fermented food! To find out more, you can check out my article in The Conversation: “Chocolate’s secret ingredient is the fermenting microbes that make it taste so good”.
What I Do Now
Being a chocolate scientist isn’t all about chocolate tasting--although to be fair, there’s a lot of that!
I also spend time in the lab, separating, measuring, and quantifying various components of cacao beans.
Previously, I researched a step of small-batch chocolate-making known as “melanging”; in fact, I published one of the very first papers on the topic, “Effects of time and temperature during melanging on the volatile profile of dark chocolate”. Now, I study how proteins break down as cacao beans ferment. My research will help illuminate how fermentation drives chocolate flavor. I also teach at Colorado State University, including courses like Food Fermentation, Theory of Brewing Beer, Sensory Evaluation, and Food Chemistry.
When I’m not in the lab, I live with my partner, Teagan, in Northern Colorado. I am learning archery and Bollywood dancing, and I raise chickens. I am an amateur, but enthusiastic, baker, and I cook Moroccan food whenever I get the chance.
And that's about it....for now :)
Thanks for reading!
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